Friday, May 19, 2017

Particular Atonement

By dying on the cross under the wrath of God that we deserve, Christ atoned for the sins of His people (Isa. 53). Note the qualifier “His people” in that sentence. When we discuss the atonement, it is insufficient to talk about it in general terms. Since penal substitution involves the one person, Jesus Christ, dying in place of others, we need to understand who those others are. Christ died intending to save people, but whom did He intend to save?

Most professing Christians would probably say that Jesus died for everyone in the world without exception. Yet, a careful reading of Scripture shows us otherwise. Christ, in fact, atoned only for the sins of His people, not the sins of every person who has ever lived.

John 10 is a key passage on this subject. Jesus says in verse 11 that He lays down His life for His sheep. If our Savior did atone for the sins of all people without exception, then everyone who has ever lived would have to be His sheep. Yet just a few verses later, Jesus makes reference to those who are “not among [His] sheep” (v. 26). It turns out that there is a difference between two groups of people that is significant to our discussion. Some people are the sheep of Jesus and some are not His sheep. But our Lord does not claim that He died for those who are not His sheep; rather, He died for His sheep alone.

In addition to the biblical evidence for Christ’s dying only for His elect, there are also important logical considerations. Christ in the atonement bears the punishment for sinners, so God would be unjust to punish in hell anyone for whom Christ died. If Christ bore the punishment for all sinners without exception, then either everyone who has ever lived must be in heaven or those who are in hell are being unjustly punished. (Their crime is being punished twice—once in Christ and once in them.) Yet we know that God is perfectly just and that some people go to hell (Deut. 32:4; Rev. 21:8). Christ, therefore, must have died only for those who are actually saved in the end.

Some have said that Christ died to save all people but that unbelief keeps some from receiving salvation. Yet, while we must believe in Jesus to be saved (Mark 16:16; Acts 16:31), unbelief is sin and is therefore also covered by the atonement. If Christ died for all unbelievers, we are back either to universalism or to God’s unjustly punishing sin twice. Thus, the only unbelief for which Jesus atoned is the unbelief of those who finally, by the work of the Spirit, abandon their unbelief and trust in Him alone for salvation.

Coram Deo
Christ died for all kinds of people; that is what passages telling us that He made propitiation for the world mean (1 John 2:2). But Jesus did not die for everyone without exception. God chose a particular people, including men and women from every tribe and tongue, and Christ died for them specifically to atone only for their sin. If you believe in Jesus, He had you particularly in mind when He made atonement for your sin. He loves you in particular that much.

Isaiah 40:1–2
Matthew 1:21

2 Kings 23–25
John 7:1–31

1 Chronicles 1–5
John 7:32–8:11


Author, No. "Particular Atonement." *TableTalk* 41, no. 5 (2017): 50.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Penal Substitution

ISAIAH 53 “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds, we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (vv. 5–6).

In our consideration of Jesus as our High Priest, we saw that His death is one of the key aspects of His priestly work. Christ’s death, Hebrews 9:11–28 explains, was a sacrifice offered “to put away sin.” We cannot understand the work of Christ unless we understand what happened in our Lord’s crucifixion.

As we consider the issue of our Lord’s atonement, let us note that Scripture describes what the crucifixion accomplished in a variety of ways. For example, the death of Jesus is described as the ransom paid to God to free us from our bondage to sin and also as the defeat of Satan (Mark 10:45; Col. 2:13–15). Christ even describes His death as the supreme illustration of His love for His friends (John 15:13). However, while we should not forget how the atonement is these things, we must emphasize that the chief reality of the atonement is that it was a penal substitution.

In penal substitution, the penalty that is due to us for our transgression is paid by a substitute, namely, Jesus Christ. The principle of penal substitution undergirds the old covenant sacrificial system. God told Adam that the penalty for sin was death (Gen. 2:16–17). In the old covenant sacrifices, the people placed their hands on the sacrificial animals, thereby identifying with them, and then the animals were put to death (see Lev. 4). This depicted the transfer of sin and guilt from the sinner to the substitute. The sinner could live because the animal died in the sinner’s place, bearing the punishment the sinner deserved.

But since “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4), the animal sacrifices of the old covenant did not effect true atonement. They were types and shadows that pointed to the only true atoning sacrifice, which was offered once for all on Calvary by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (vv. 5–18). This final and only effective act of penal substitution was foreshadowed by the entire old covenant sacrificial system and explicitly predicted in Isaiah 53. The prophet tells us that God laid on the Suffering Servant (Christ) our iniquity (Isa. 53:6)—our sin was transferred to Him in the atonement. He was pierced and crushed for our iniquities, “cut off out of the land of the living . . . for the transgression of my people” (vv. 4–5, 8). In other words, Christ endured the punishment His people deserve in their place. If we trust in Him alone for salvation, we need not fear eternal death, for Jesus bore our sin on the cross so that we will not receive everlasting judgment (v. 10; John 3:16).

Coram Deo
All people have a sense of guilt for their transgressions no matter how hard they try to suppress it. The only way to lose the weight of guilt is to have it removed through atonement. If you have trusted in Christ alone for salvation, you need not feel guilty before God this day, for He has paid for your sin. If you have not trusted Christ, your guilt will be removed when you rest in Him alone.

Leviticus 5:14–19
Jeremiah 33:8
1 Corinthians 1:4–9
1 John 4:10

2 Kings 20–22
John 6:60–71


Author, No. "Penal Substitution." *TableTalk* 41, no. 5 (2017): 49.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Christ Our Priest

HEBREWS 2:17 “[Christ] had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

Under the old covenant, the priests represented the people before God, bringing sacrifices on their behalf to cover their sin and cleanse the temple and tabernacle. The most important work of the priesthood occurred on the annual Day of Atonement, when Israel’s high priest took the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies to atone for the nation’s sins (Lev. 16). That annual cleansing by the intermediary who represented the people was necessary to maintain the covenant relationship between the Lord and the Israelites.

By the time of the Reformation, there was much focus on the church’s priests as intermediaries between the people and God who offered up a sacrifice of atonement in the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) at each Mass. The Reformers objected strongly, for they rightly saw that a continuing priesthood that propitiated (turned away) the wrath of God through the ongoing sacrifice of the Mass was a repudiation of Christ’s office as our High Priest. As we see in today’s passage and many other texts in the book of Hebrews, there is only one priest and intermediary between the people and God—Christ Jesus our Lord (Heb. 2:17).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that “Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God; and in making continual intercession for us” (WSC 25). Here we see that our Lord’s priestly work includes both His effectual never-to-be-repeated sacrifice for our sin and His effectual intercession on our behalf.
When we speak of Jesus as our Priest or High Priest, we are referring first to the perfection of His sacrifice. Old covenant priests repeated their sacrifices again and again because the blood of bulls and goats cannot truly atone for the sin of human beings. Only a human being can atone for other human beings, so a man had to die if true atonement was ever to be made. Christ Jesus offered this perfect atonement, suffering and dying as a man to cover our sin. The perfection of His atonement means it cannot and need not be repeated, and any attempt to do so calls into question the sufficiency of His work (Heb. 9–10).

Christ is our all-sufficient Savior because He is our Priest. Not only does He offer the true atonement for our sin, He also ever lives to intercede for us (7:25). It is good news indeed that Christ prays for His people, for it means that He cannot fail to save His elect. Being the Son of God, He knows how to intercede for us before His Father perfectly such that none of His own will ever be lost.

Coram Deo
We find it difficult to know how to pray for ourselves, but Christ does not have that problem. He prays for us perfectly before His Father such that if we trust in Him, we cannot fail to persevere in faith. Our perseverance ultimately depends on Christ’s faithful prayers for us. If you are discouraged this day, know that if you trust in Jesus Christ, He is praying perfectly for you right at this very moment.

Numbers 11:1–3
1 Samuel 12:19–25
Mark 14:22–25
John 17

2 Kings 15–17
John 6:1–21


Author, No. "Christ Our Priest." *TableTalk* 41, no. 5 (2017): 45.

Christ Our Prophet

JOHN 4:19 “The woman said to [Jesus], ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.’ ”

With the affirmation of *solus Christus*—Christ alone—the Protestant Reformers were calling for the church to return to the bedrock Christian conviction that Jesus is sufficient for salvation. The church, the sacraments, and other things are important, even essential, for Christian living, but in themselves they do not save. It is Christ who saves, and His work of salvation is sufficient for us because of the perfection of His person and work.

One of the common ways that the Reformers conceptualized the person and work of our Savior was under the rubric of Christ’s threefold office as our Prophet, Priest, and King. Today we will consider Christ as our Prophet. Any study of the Gospels will show us that Jesus was considered a prophet during His lifetime. For example, the woman to whom Christ talked at the well in Samaria confessed that Jesus was a prophet, and Jesus did not correct her (John 4:19). He accepted the designation because He fulfills the prophetic office.

Question and answer 24 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism fleshes this out by explaining that Christ is our Prophet because He reveals “to us, by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.” Jesus reveals to us the way to the Father, pointing to Himself as the only avenue through whom we can be reconciled to God (John 14:6). In fact, Jesus not only gives us the words of God but He is the very Word of God, the incarnation of God’s salvation (1:1–18).

When we refer to Christ as our Prophet, we are not referring only to what He taught during His earthly ministry. All of God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation, is the result of Christ’s executing His office of Prophet. Yes, the Holy Spirit comes to the fore particularly when we are discussing the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (see 2 Peter 1:21), but the Spirit was not working by Himself in revealing God’s will to God’s people. As the Father, Spirit, and Son are perfectly united and share one essence (Matt. 28:18–20), the words that the Spirit gave are no less the words of the Father and the Son. Jesus, therefore, speaks to us in every word of the Bible.

That Christ is the Prophet sent by God points to the perfection of His teaching. John Calvin writes, “The purpose of this prophetical dignity in Christ is to teach us, that in the doctrine which he delivered is substantially included a wisdom which is perfect in all its parts” (Institutes 2.15.2). His Word never fails to save those whom He wants it to save (Isa. 55:10–11).

Coram Deo
History is filled with false prophets who deceived many people but were ultimately proven not to have a word from God. Christ, however, is the true Prophet whose Word is absolutely trustworthy and whose Word never fails to accomplish His purposes for it. He executes His prophetic ministry today through His inscripturated Word, and if we want to know God’s will for us, we must be committed to studying the Scriptures.

Deuteronomy 18:15–22
Amos 3:7
Matthew 21:11

2 Kings 12–14
John 5:30–47


Author, No. "Christ Our Prophet." *TableTalk* 41, no. 5 (2017): 44.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Obedience Under The Law

GALATIANS 4:4–5 “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the renowned defender of biblical orthodoxy in early twentieth-century Presbyterianism, sent a telegram just before his death that read: “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.” Machen’s message indicates that we need both the death of Christ and His life of obedience to save us. It is not enough for our sins to be removed by the atonement; we also need a positive record of righteousness, obedience that fulfills the demands that God gave mankind to take dominion over the world for His glory (Gen. 1:26–28).

The recognition of our need for Christ’s active obedience to God goes back through the Protestant Reformation to the Apostles. As we see in today’s passage, Christ was born “under the law” to redeem those who are “under the law” (Gal. 4:4–5). But what does it mean to be under the law? In effect, it means to be obligated to keep the law perfectly in order to enjoy a right standing before God. By being born under the law, our Savior consented to fulfill its demands so that we can be released from its death sentence against those who do not obey it perfectly. John Calvin comments, “Christ chose to become liable to keep the law, that exemption from it might be obtained for us.”

We must be careful here. Paul is thinking primarily of the Mosaic law in Galatians 4:4–5, but we are not to understand the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works given to sinners wherein they were expected to earn their righteousness before God. Remember that God gave the Mosaic law after redeeming His people. For sinners, grace precedes law, and seeking to be faithful to the law is how sinners thank God for His grace. Nevertheless, the law promises life to those who keep it perfectly (Lev. 18:5). Those who do it perfectly will be justified (Rom. 2:13). But sinners cannot keep the law with the perfection God demands, and recognizing this, God included in the law the gracious provision of sacrifices to atone for sin.

Yet none of this means that God could simply set aside His demands. In Adam we failed to please the Lord, and a just God cannot simply set His commands aside. His justice demands that His law be kept. In substance, the moral commands given to Adam are found in the Mosaic law, and by keeping these commands, our Savior did what we never could. By coming under the law and living a perfect life, He kept God’s demands on our behalf. His record of perfect law keeping is now ours by faith alone in Him (1 Cor. 1:30–31).

Coram Deo
If we are in Christ, we are redeemed from the law and are “not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned” (Westminster Confession of Faith 19.6). We are now liberated to use the law according to the purpose for which God gave it to redeemed people—as a guide to holiness. We do not seek to obey the law to save ourselves but to manifest the holy character that God seeks from His redeemed children.

Isaiah 53:9
Romans 10:4
2 Corinthians 5:21
Philippians 3:2–11

2 Kings 1–3
John 3:22–36


Author, No. "Obedience Under The Law." *TableTalk* 41, no. 5 (2017): 41.

Obedience In Temptation

LUKE 4:1–13 “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (vv. 1–2a).

From the very beginning of the earthly life of Jesus, He never failed to obey His Father and thus He qualified Himself to be our High Priest (Heb. 5:8–10). All of His days, Jesus kept the commandments of God, yet there are particular episodes of obedience in His life that are especially instructive for us. One of the most important of these is the temptation of our Lord by Satan.

Paul tells us explicitly that Christ is the new Adam (Rom. 5:12–21), the progenitor of a new humanity that will love and serve the Creator. He tells us directly that to be in Christ is to be in the last Adam and to be part of His redeemed people who will be all that God intended humanity to be. But other New Testament authors teach us this concept as well, though they do so indirectly. By focusing much attention on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—teach us that Jesus is the last Adam. By telling the temptation story, they make this point more implicitly than Paul does, but they make it just the same.

Just consider this: What was the fundamental temptation that Adam faced in the garden of Eden? It was whether He was going to trust God and live by His Word even when the alternative offered by Satan—to become as God—might seem better on the surface. The devil tempted Jesus in a similar way. After forty days of no food and living in a harsh wilderness, the temptations Satan offered to turn stones to bread and to rule in comfort over all the world’s kingdoms certainly would have looked appealing to most people. But Jesus chose to trust God and live by His Word, and so He resisted Satan successfully (Luke 4:1–13).

Satan tempted Adam by twisting what God had said, not correcting Eve when she added to what the Lord had told her (Gen. 3:1–6). In a similar way, the devil tempted Jesus, quoting Scripture selectively and not balancing it with the rest of the Old Testament’s teachings on subjects such as putting God to the test, true worship, and how the Lord sustains His people. And how did Jesus defeat Satan? By knowing God’s Word in all its fullness and not setting one portion against another (Luke 4:1–13). He interpreted Scripture by Scripture, thus knowing and using Scripture’s true meaning against the enemy.

By overcoming Satan’s temptation, Jesus succeeded where Adam failed in Eden, and our salvation was made possible. (It was actualized in Christ’s death and resurrection.) He also gave an example for us. To resist temptation, we must know and live by God’s Word.

Coram Deo
As we grow in our knowledge of and love for God’s Word, we grow in our ability to recognize the sin in our own hearts and to identify temptation when it confronts us. Growing in God’s Word also shows us God’s glory, convincing us that He is better than anything sin has to offer. If we want to grow stronger against sin, we must grow in our understanding of God’s Word.

Proverbs 1:10
Matthew 4:1–11
Hebrews 4:15
James 1:13

1 Kings 21–22
John 3:1–21


Author, No. "Obedience In Temptation." *TableTalk* 41, no. 5 (2017): 40.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Obedience In Baptism

MATTHEW 3:13–15 “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ ”

Jesus, if He was to save His people from their sin, had to render perfect obedience to God. We find this truth in passages such as Hebrews 5:8–9, where the author says that Christ was made perfect and the source of eternal salvation because He learned obedience. In other words, Jesus qualified Himself to be the Savior by flawlessly obeying all of God’s commands. He had to render perfect obedience as a man in order for men and women to be righteous in Him before the Father.

Christ rendered obedience to His Father by keeping every statute given to Israel. This included more than just the Mosaic law, for later in the history of the Jews, God sent John the Baptist to command His people to repent and be baptized (Luke 1:5–17; 3:1–6). Thus we have the context for understanding the words of Jesus in Matthew 3:15 that He had to be baptized by John “to fulfill all righteousness.” As Dr. R.C. Sproul has often said, by submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus kept that additional command given to the Jews and thus could stand before God having done all that God had commanded His people to do. Of course, Jesus’ baptism, while a fulfillment of God’s command, was not precisely the same as the baptism that the other Jews received. John pointed out that Jesus had no inherent need for baptism, and Jesus did not correct him (vv. 13–14). In other words, John knew that Jesus did not need to repent because He had no sin. Nevertheless, it was necessary for Jesus to be baptized, so Jesus went through the rite in preparation for His ministry though not as part of repentance, for He had no transgressions for which to repent.

Additionally, Christ’s obedience to God in being baptized is one of the earliest examples we have of Jesus’ identifying Himself with His people. Many commentators over the years have pointed out that by being baptized with His people, Jesus showed His solidarity with them. In His baptism, Jesus became like those He came to save, taking on their duties. There are echoes of substitution here, of Jesus’ placing Himself in the stead of those He came to save. This motif of substitution, of course, becomes more prominent throughout Christ’s ministry, and it reaches its ultimate fulfillment on the cross where He dies as a ransom for many, as the atoning sacrifice who takes the place of His people under divine judgment (Matt. 20:28; Mark 15:34; John 11:49–52). But at His baptism, Jesus began His journey as our substitute in earnest.

Coram Deo
We are called to obey every command God has given us, but our obedience does not secure our salvation. Only the obedience of Christ can do that. Our obedience is a reflection of whether we are grateful for our Lord’s obeying God perfectly in our place. When we fail to obey, we are not showing gratitude for what Christ has done, so let us seek to obey God so that we may properly express thankfulness to our Savior.

Leviticus 18:5
Matthew 5:17–18
Mark 1:9–11
Galatians 4:4–5

1 Kings 19–20
John 2


Author, No. "Obedience In Baptism." *TableTalk* 41, no. 5 (2017): 39.